A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara
10th March 2015, Picador
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition.
There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
22.02.19 Literally just finished, I think I need some time to gather my thoughts before reviewing this one
25.02.19 I think I have had enough time now to gather my thoughts and my page and a half of review notes to give this a go.
This book was read as part of the P Turners blog book club.
I do have to say A Little Life isn’t a book I would normally pick up, I seem to live in a cave as I had never heard anything about this book or any of the fervor this book created being nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Nor is there any synopsis on the back of this book (again doesn’t encourage me to pick it up).
Without giving too much away about this book it follows the life of Jude St Francis, where we first meet him whilst he is in college. There are flashbacks to his harrowing childhood and how he was brought up and we follow him onward from college to his older years. We get to meet all the people he interacts with, good and bad, some deserving more detail than others. I felt emotionally involved in the story and characters as if he was speaking to me about his life in a journal. Speaking about his friends in such a way I very nearly googled them, to then remember these were fictional.
Whilst I have had book hangovers before despite this taking me 3 weeks to read (it is a lot of pages!) I have never felt this sense of loss I felt when finishing this story. I found I was held rapt and enslaved with the detail and depth of the writing. This novel has taken me well out of my comfort zone and my ‘safe’ genres but will definitely be one that will stay with me.
This book was actually picked by S for a blog book club read and although I’m not sure I would have chosen it for myself to read, I am not one to not at least try so I got started.
I didn’t not like this book but I struggled with the amount of words and the way it was written. Personally for me I felt that Hanya could have gotten away with a lot less description, there were points where I found myself losing interest and would drift away from the story. It certainly didn’t grip me, I found myself just wanting to get to the end by about 80%.
I also found it hard to keep track of the the timeline of events, the story would start at one point and then jump back in time to something that happened a few months before hand and then back to the starting point and I found myself not really knowing what happened when. It starts off with 4 main characters and I got the impression that the story would be based on the 4 but it seemed to then switch to all be about one particular character with narration from another at points. The other 2 became more like back ground characters although one of them does have a part that’s about him but it’s not consistent. I disliked that as I think I would have enjoyed reading about the 4 and not just the small glimpses we get. I feel that if Hanya wanted it to be about Jude then she should have left the bit based on JB out completely. It felt like a bit of a teaser and irrelevant to the rest of the book. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if there were more about the other characters we are introduced to.
This book is a very hard hitting book to read. It should come with a number of trigger warnings. Depression and child abuse being the worse things that come to mind. Hanya does write about depression well and those scenes of hyenas chasing Jude came to live in a real way. I found it difficult to read the parts about Jude’s childhood and found I had to take a break several times during those parts. I feel they are needed to really understand why Jude is the way he is and some of the decisions he makes. Hanya describes the self hatred and the emotional depth of Jude’s character extremely well and those bits affected me, to hear what he has been through and continues to struggle with was very difficult.
I did feel a bit heartless when I found myself getting frustrated with Jude. I think I discovered more about myself whilst reading this book. I did quite like Jude’s character, in as much as his friends become his world and when he falls in love you can tell he does it so completely with all of his being, however there were points where I just wanted to take him by his shoulders and shake him to wake up and realise just what he has surrounding him but I guess that’s just one of the ways that depression can affect a person.
All that being said when I got close to the end of the book I did find myself getting very emotional and I realised that maybe this book had affected me a little more than I realised. One very big warning though – do not go into this book expecting a happy ending!
Overall this book will probably stay with me for just how hard hitting and difficult it was. One of the signs of a good book is a book that you find yourself thinking about without even realising and I think this will be one of those for me.
You can buy A LITTLE LIFE from the following booksellers (and obviously many more! Support your local booksellers where you can!)